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Clinical Sciences
November 2000

Conjunctival Melanoma: Risk Factors for Recurrence, Exenteration, Metastasis, and Death in 150 Consecutive Patients

Author Affiliations

From the Oncology Service, Wills Eye Hospital, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pa.

Arch Ophthalmol. 2000;118(11):1497-1507. doi:10.1001/archopht.118.11.1497

Objective  To identify the risk factors of conjunctival malignant melanoma that predict local tumor recurrence, orbital exenteration, distant metastasis, and tumor-related mortality.

Design  The clinical parameters of the patient, tumor, and treatment were analyzed in a nonrandomized fashion for their relation to 4 main outcome measures using Cox proportional hazards regression models.

Participants  One hundred fifty consecutive patients.

Main Outcome Measures  Local tumor recurrence, orbital exenteration, distant metastasis, and death from conjunctival melanoma.

Results  The Kaplan-Meier estimates of local tumor recurrence was 26% at 5 years, 51% at 10 years, and 65% at 15 years. The mean number of recurrences per patient was 1 (median, 0 recurrences). There was no recurrence in 98 patients (65%), 1 recurrence in 28 patients (19%), 2 recurrences in 11 patients (7%), 3 recurrences in 5 patients (3%), and 4 or more recurrences in 8 patients (5%). Using multivariate analysis, the factors correlated with local tumor recurrence were melanoma location (not touching the limbus) (P = .01) and pathological tumor margins (lateral margin involved) (P = .02). Multivariate analysis for features correlated with ultimate exenteration included initial visual acuity (20/40 OU or worse) (P<.001), melanoma color red (P = .01), and melanoma location (not touching the limbus) (P = .02). Tumor metastasis was present in 16% of patients at 5 years, 26% of patients at 10 years, and 32% of patients at 15 years. Metastasis was first located in the regional lymph nodes in 17 cases, the brain in 4 cases, the liver in 3 cases, the lung in 2 cases, and was disseminated in 1 case. The risks for metastases using multivariate analysis included pathological tumor margins (lateral margin involved) (P = .002) and melanoma location (not touching limbus) (P = .04).Tumor-related death occurred in 7% patients at 5 years' follow-up and 13% at 8 years' follow-up. The risk factors for death using multivariate analysis included initial symptoms (lump) (P = .004) and pathologic findings (de novo melanoma without primary acquired melanosis) (P = .05). The technique of initial surgery was shown to be an important factor in preventing eventual tumor recurrence (P = .07), metastasis (P = .03), and death (P = .006) in the univariate analysis, but did not reach significance in the multivariate analysis.

Conclusions  Conjunctival malignant melanoma is a potentially deadly tumor. In the present study, metastasis was detected in 26% of patients, and death occurred in 13% of patients at 10 years. Extralimbal melanoma and tumor involvement of the surgical margins were especially poor prognostic factors. Meticulous surgical planning using wide microsurgical excisional biopsy working with the "no touch" technique and supplemental alcohol corneal epitheliectomy and conjunctival cryotherapy is advised.